Community Health COVID kits

By Kim Kalliber, Tulalip News

Being prepared is key in any health crisis. It’s especially important during a nationwide pandemic like COVID 19. With cases on the rise again at Tulalip, staff at Community Health, in partnership with Emergency Management, have prepared wellness kits for those testing positive with the virus.

According to Morgan Peterson, Community Health Nurse, 70 kits have been assembled and are available. “These are a starter kit to help promote health and wellness. Family or friends can pick them up at the Community Health building. We also will deliver the kits the persons home.”

“These kits are for all Native families residing on the reservation and receive care at the health clinic,” said Morgan. “We will provide these kits to Tribal families that have tested positive outside of the Tulalip Health Clinic.”

These kits include many essential items such as: 

  • Hand soap
  • Sanitizer
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • 20 masks 
  • 20 pairs of gloves
  • Teas
  • EmergenC
  • Pulse oximeter
  • Thermometer
  • Booklet to track and monitor symptoms 
  • An info card on how to use the items and who to call if you need help

There is a limit of one COVID care kit per household and three kits have been given out so far. Clinic staff are asking those picking up kits to please call first, and staff will bring the kit to your car. 

“Community Health nurses and nurses of the Health Clinic are here to answer any questions or concerns so don’t hesitate to call,” added Morgan.

The Clinic is offering COVID testing to any patient of the clinic. You must be or become registered to receive COVID testing. 

For more information, please contact the Tulalip Health Clinic at 360-716-5662 or visit 

The art of soap making with Amoreena Anderson

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“Everybody sees soap as this magical thing, and it is kind of magical,” said Tulalip tribal member, Amoreena Anderson. “It cleanses your pores and takes away all the dirt and bacteria off your body, binds it to a molecule and washes it away.”

At a young age, Amoreena found her passion while on shopping trips with her mom in Mount Vernon. Little did she know of all the lives she would positively affect when she was drawn to a section of a local food co-op where they sold handcrafted soap, and her teenage, curious mind began to wonder how soap is made.

“My mom used to take me to the Skagit Valley Food Co-Op and they would have all these handcrafted soaps, I was always interested in knowing how they were made,” she said. “My mom told me she made soap before and I would probably learn when I got older. From that moment on, I was completely into it.”

She spent the next few years researching how to craft soap. If the co-op visits were the prelude to her journey in soap making, the first chapter took place in 2012 when she began experimenting and created her first product, which was a big hit amongst her family and co-workers.

She stated, “I have carpal tunnel and was always typing as a data entry clerk, so I started making shea butter body whip, basically whipped shea butter that I would add essential oils and vitamin E. My friend used to trade me massages for the body butter, it was for her child who had a skin condition. I believe all the high-end essential oils are wonderful, they reap all the benefits that you could use and I really wanted to know more.” 

Amoreena explained that after receiving positive reviews about the body butter and learning more about essential oils, she was ready for the next challenge. Purchasing her first home in 2013, she now had the necessary space to fully immerse herself into her passion project.

“I had a typical first timer experience as I started perfecting my methods and recipes. They have soap calculators online that are very helpful in helping you get the right consistency. Cleansing and moisturizing are the two most important factors. Depending on your skin type, you can modify each batch to meet your specific needs. And then there’s also the oil properties; soy bean, coconut, shea butter, a lot of exotic oils that all have different properties. Pretty soon I had a lot of people who wanted to buy soap from me, so I start selling soap. But, I wanted to do more.”

“I had a typical first timer experience as I started perfecting my methods and recipes. They have soap calculators online that are very helpful in helping you get the right consistency. Cleansing and moisturizing are the two most important factors. Depending on your skin type, you can modify each batch to meet your specific needs. And then there’s also the oil properties; soy bean, coconut, shea butter, a lot of exotic oils that all have different properties. Pretty soon I had a lot of people who wanted to buy soap from me, so I start selling soap. But, I wanted to do more.”

Growing up Tulalip, she learned about the traditional lifeways of her people and knew a great deal about harvesting and the medicinal properties that plants contain. She wanted to expand her knowledge on the subject of herbalism even more to incorporate different plants and herbs into her soaps, salves, candles, bath bombs, and lotions to help people with their everyday ailments. She enrolled in an herbalist course to get a better understanding of the healing abilities that various plants offer. 

“I took a class to learn different ways I could incorporate a holistic approach, to help people heal their skin issues and symptoms because a lot of herbalism can treat those symptoms,” said Amoreena. “Depending on the plant you’re using, some of these plants are adaptogenic and they alleviate and eliminate symptoms completely. I really feel like I’m doing my best work, sharing my passion for my work in general to give to my community. Whether it be information or product, it’s very empowering and uplifting and I like to not only give to them, but ask them if they would like to make soap with me, if they want to go harvesting with me, or if they want to sit in and watch.”

Amoreena’s soap making journey was off to a great start. In fact, if her story was a biopic on the silver screen, the next few years would play out like a montage as her business, known officially as Coast Salish Soaps, took off. Not only was she selling soap to multiple families within the Tulalip community, her products were being shipped nationwide and could even be found for sale in other countries such as Canada, Italy, Japan, Germany and England. The quality of her products was spoken of highly by her clientele who provided testimonials and side-by-side before and after pictures to back up their reviews.

A major component to her success is the fact the she shares her knowledge with her consumers. When people approach her with different skin issues they wish to address, she not provides them with a product that works, she explains why it will work, what to expect and how the issue may have arisen in the first place.  

“I really do care,” expressed Amoreena. “I have sensitive skin. My kids have sensitive skin. A lot of it stems from the food you eat. Your liver is basically your body’s second brain, and your skin is the largest organ on your body. Your skin is considered to be your second liver. Everything your liver doesn’t process out, comes through the skin and you end up having skin eruptions; eczema, cirrhosis, endocrine diseases are linked to the liver and heavy metal. There are so many people who suffer from skin flare ups like dry skin, rashes and they don’t know where it comes from.”

She continues, “When you go all natural with handcrafted soaps like I make, sometimes you go through a detoxing process for your skin and it’s weird for the first two weeks, but then you’re all good. A lot of people say soap irritates their skin and think what is sold over the counter is soap, when it’s not actually soap, it’s chemicals. People like it because it doesn’t leave soap scum, one of the complaints that happens regularly with handmade soaps. But then they’ll notice their skin is a lot drier, itchier, and tight-feeling, and that’s because their using surfactants versus soap. With what corporate America gives the public to use, small-business-handcrafted-soap-makers are really valuable people inside their communities, to bring that knowledge back to people. It’s empowering for a lot of people to take back control on what they use on their bodies.”

All great success stories are not complete without trials and tribulations, and Coast Salish Soaps are currently weathering a momentary hiatus brought forth in the form of an injury when Amoreena took a spill and broke both of her wrists. Although she hasn’t been in business for about a year, she still receives requests on the regular. When she has the necessary helping hands from her kiddos and plenty of notice in advance, Amoreena will occasionally concoct a batch of soaps to donate for local memorials and funerals in the Tulalip community. 

  “I usually have a feeling of gratitude when I do my work. When I’m called upon to make soap for memorials, or funerals for our give away practices, I always try to oblige. An important part of our culture, in the potlatch system, is our giveaways.”

Amoreena wants her loyal customers and interested parties to know that her love and passion for soap making hasn’t faltered through trying times, and that she plans on elevating her brand once she is back to 100% and healed from her injury. And although she constantly works with Native plants of this region, such as Devils Club, and has even rendered bear fat to use in her products, she wants to incorporate more traditional teachings and medicine into soaps and creations. 

“One of my favorites to make is the emulsified sugar scrub because you’re in total and complete control of how moisturizing or cleansing it is, and how silky it’s going to turn out and how much lather it will have. My healing butter infused with plant medicine is another favorite. Soap is my favorite, that’s a given because that’s the base of my business. I like to make lotions and heavy creams upon request. Liquid soap is most definitely up there, people really like the liquid soap. My son’s out fishing and he’ll come home and it will take the fish smell right out of his skin. Any stinky smell, it’s just gone, don’t have to re-wash your hands from anything potent smelling. It’s really good for your skin too, it doesn’t leave it over dried.”

To stay updated on the latest news about Amoreena and Coast Salish Soaps, please join the Coast Salish Soaps group on Facebook and be sure to give their business page a like as well. Amoreena may not be selling products at this time, but she is always willing to share the knowledge she has attained over the years with those who are inquiring. 

She expressed, “My goal with my business is to empower the people, to give back to the community. It’s important that we uplift each other and share our knowledge to keep our Tribe and our community empowered. You’d be amazed at what a bag of liquid soap, that’s full of essential oils, can do for somebody’s mental health just by that ritual of showering and inhaling the essential oils in the steam.”

Did you know?

  • Devils club salve is a sacred plant native to the United States, Canada and Alaska regions. They like to grow in areas that have a lot of moisture. A little bit can go a long way. It’s an anti-flammatory and it has multiple uses beyond herbalism that are sacred and spiritual. The plant itself will smoothen out kinked muscles, it will alleviate the pain and bring circulation in. 
  • Magnesium is a mineral that our bodies need, it’s something that our body doesn’t reproduce on its own so you need to get it from food sources or topically. Magnesium does hundreds of positive things for your body; it relaxes your heart, it relaxes all of your muscles so you can get proper blood flow to damaged tissue, it alleviates leg cramps, it works with nerve damage like neuropathy that diabetics can get, it helps immensely with headaches and can be a very powerful pain reliever.

Plant powered crafting for holistic health

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Herbal medicine is one of the oldest teachings we have. Human beings have supported holistic health and wellness with the use of plants and herbs that naturally work synergistically with our minds, bodies, and spirits since the dawn of time. What could be a more amazing way to support your optimal well-being than by using nature’s gifts?

“This is what is so wonderful about herbal nutrition and using plants in a culturally appropriate and traditional way to support our wellness,” marveled Veronica “Roni” Leahy, Diabetes Care and Prevention Program coordinator at the Tulalip Health Clinic. Her dedicated team hosted several plant-based craft making tables at Garden Treasurers organic farm on Wednesday, September 16. “This is such a precious opportunity to talk about plants and how important they are for the overall health of our bodies. This work truly is making an impact on preventing diabetes and other chronic diseases.”

Our bodies were designed to exist with nature, which is why it should come as no surprise that herbal medicine continues to be an effective way to support wellness. For countless generations, we’ve incorporated herbs into our food culture and used them foundationally to create medicines to remedy the most common ailments. Whether you realize it or not, plants have a deep-rooted effect on the way we feel, both physically and spiritually. We quite literally feel better and get an energy boost by simply allowing ourselves to be immersed by plant power. It’s the way nature intended.

For Tulalip families and health clinic patients who ventured to Garden Treasures and took advantage of September 16’s u-pick garden day, they were treated with an opportunity to learn about plant-based crafting. Think of it as chicken soup for the soul, but instead of chicken soup its locally grown lavender, lemongrass and berry blends.

Amy King brought her two daughters, Kimberly and Grace, to the hands-on event to learn more about healthier food options and was pleasantly surprised to see the craft tables. After making their rounds through the farm and picking a wide-range of fresh produce, they took a seat and got to work making bundles of dry lavender.

“It was a little difficult because I’ve never made one before, but it was fun learning. I want to hang mine by my bed or put it next to my pillow,” said 12-year-old Grace.

Lavender is a flowering plant in the mint family that’s easily identified by its sweet floral scent and stunning shade of purple. It’s commonly used for medicinal and therapeutic benefits, namely to improve sleep and reduce blood pressure. Lavender is also a great natural remedy for everyday stresses that can take a toll on your mental health.  There’s plenty of research that suggests the purple herb has positive effects on mood, stress, anxiety and depression.

As an aspiring chef, 15-year-old Kimberly felt her mood become more and more joyous as she finished her lavender bundle and began looking forward to some creative cooking with all her garden harvesting. 

“The cooking process is more fun when you can handpick your own ingredients,” she said. “Getting fruits, vegetables, and herbs straight from the garden means you’re cooking with the freshest ingredients and making healthier meals. Walking through the gardens and seeing all the different options, it’s easy to think creatively and get a lot of ideas. I plan on experimenting with what I picked today and making a chicken stir-fry.”

With the summer season officially over and Pacific Northwest temperatures already in the mid-60s, we’re back to a near permanent weather forecast of dreary with a chance of rain showers. The quick turn in weather has brought about legitimate concern from medical experts that seasonal depression will pack some extra oomph this fall. A simple mood enhancer to help combat the effects of less sunlight and colder temperatures is a daily hot cup of lemongrass tea. 

Naturally growing in these parts and conveniently found at the health clinic’s Wellness Garden, lemongrass can alleviate depression and anxiety when enjoyed as an herbal tea. Its pleasant, citrusy taste is a like a reminder of bright and cheerful days. This perennial plant is packed full of antioxidants, good for digestion, regulates high blood pressure, and can boost your immune system. 

“It’s important, especially as we approach cold and flu season, to stay hydrated and strengthen your immune system to stay healthy. Tea is an effective strategy and it’s easy to make,” explained indigenous chef Britt Reed, creator of Food Sovereignty is Tribal Sovereignty, as she wove lemongrass into palm-sized wreaths. The mini green wreaths can be easily placed into a hot cup or teapot, steeped for 10-15 minutes, and then enjoyed.

“What I enjoy the most about these opportunities is sharing the plant stories and watching the people’s interest grow as they learn more about the many health benefits of local plants,” reflected Roni after another successful event sharing traditional knowledge and assisting community craft makers.

One such participant was Lummi elder Anita Rutherford. She shared that she’s attended every Garden Treasures u-pick day hosted by the Diabetes Care and Prevention Program thus far and looks forward to attending the final two on September 30 and October 17 as well. 

“I’ve been a member of the diabetes program ran by Roni since the beginning, some 5 or 6 years now, and I’m happy to say my diabetes is under control because of this program’s guidance,” shared Anita. “They’ve taught me how to properly monitor my blood sugar level and how to view food as my best form of medicine.”

The quest for optimal health and wellness begins with discovering a vibrant lifestyle based on nature’s gifts. Whether it be eating more fruits and vegetables in every day meals or crafting traditional medicines with locally grown flowers and herbs, the power of plants is undisputed.

Tulalip Diabetes Care and Prevention Program: An award-Winning clinical program grounded in food, nature, prayer, community, and wellness

By Indian Country Echo; photos by Micheal Rios and Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 

In 2016, the Tulalip Diabetes Care and Prevention Program was awarded the Indian Health Service Portland Area Director’s Award for Excellence. Since then, the program has seen remarkable successes in treating patients and bringing the community together. In late March 2020, we had the pleasure of speaking with Veronica “Roni” Leahy- Diabetes Program Manager for Tulalip to learn more about their secrets to success. 

Roni, who is a member of the Chiricahua Apache Tribe in New Mexico has worked in healthcare since the 1980s, explained to us that it was her father, who inspired her to work for tribal people. Since beginning at Tulalip, Roni has humbly viewed her role as someone who helps create spaces where community members can connect and feel that they are listened to and cared for by staff. She also sees it as her role to create a culture of care that is responsive to patients’ needs.

When Roni started in her position 12 years ago, the diabetes program was much smaller, consisting of only three full-time staff members. Shortly after, the Clinic’s leadership made sweeping changes that helped the program grow. Their first effort was to actively seek out and hire a dedicated Registered Nurse and Certified Diabetes Educator. Then, leadership put Tulalip’s Clinical pharmacists at the center of diabetes medication management by designating them as case managers. Additionally, through the diabetes team’s urging, the program and tribe began covering the costs for needed supplies and services for patients with diabetes, including medications, eye-exams, orthotics, physical therapy, chiropractic care, alternative medicine, dental care, and lab work not covered by insurance. Finally, the program began to expand outside of the clinic walls. With Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) funding, they created a wellness garden and trail and began to offer classes on herbal medicines, gardening, cooking, nutrition education, and wellness. Community members and their families began socializing, learning from one another and staff, and growing their toolbox of skills to take care of their health and the health of their loved ones.

Roni was delighted to see that when staff and community members interacted during diabetes program events real relationships and trust began to form. Roni believes that these relationships, as well as the program’s focus on engaging the whole community, have helped the program succeed. 

Today, the Tulalip Diabetes Care and Prevention Program meets and, at times, exceeds the SDPI and IHS standards of care. It offers community member’s 1-on-1 support from diabetes case managers and the support of a coordinated care team of providers including – pharmacists, primary care doctors and advanced registered nurse practitioners, herbalist, acupuncturists, nurse educators, behavioral health specialists, optometrists, and podiatrists. It even has an Elder Advocate- a tribal member who is respected and valued as a spiritual person, who does home and hospital visits, oversees all program activities, and imbues program events with daily prayer and spiritual wellness.  This person is Dale Jones, and he often will be heard saying “Every good thing starts with prayer and ends with prayer.” 

The program has seen remarkable success – a majority of patients with diabetes have an A1C of less than 8.0 as well as blood pressure readings of <140/<90, and almost all patients have received diabetes education. Roni credits the program’s successes to the vision of a committee of dedicated community elders who provide guidance. Through incorporating the wisdom of elders, staff work to implement consistent programming and regularly scheduled events, offer activities tailored for different age groups, and include as many community members as possible in growing the program. Finally, elders have encouraged Roni to develop a virtual walking journey that community members will take to the intended landing site of this year’s Canoe Journey. After receiving permission to make the journey to Snuneymuxw in British Columbia from the Snuneymuxw Chief and Council- Tulalip community members will join each other in counting their steps to “walk” the 340 miles. 

Given the Tulalip Diabetes Care and Prevention Program’s commitment to building a culture of wellness, it is clear that their efforts will continue to take the Tulalip people far- one step at a time.  

To Learn More about the Tulalip Diabetes Program please contact Veronica “Roni” Leahy at 360-716-5642 or at

We Love You Care Packages

Deborah Parker.

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

“The government tried to change us, tried to kill the Indian to save the man,” said Deborah Parker, Tulalip tribal member. “We can’t take back those days, but today we can find that healing and let our elders know that they do mean a lot to us. We want them to know that we want to listen, we want to care for you and want to shower you with as much love and respect that others didn’t show you.”

Deborah reflected on the past five months in the cafeteria of the Tulalip Boys and Girls Club, which has served as her primary work station for the care package project. With a mountain of white USPS boxes behind her, she explained what one might expect upon opening one of the many boxes that were stacked neatly and nearly to the ceiling. 

“1,000 boxes, that’s the ambitious goal,” she laughed. “We were trying to figure out what these boxes would be called and the words we came up with were just, ‘We Love You’. We want people to feel loved. Sometimes people go through life not knowing that someone loves them. The boarding schools made sure that our kids didn’t feel loved for who they were, who they are as Native Americans.”

Deborah of course needs no introduction, she is known nationwide for her work in Native America, using her voice for a number of causes, namely the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). She was also handpicked to serve on the platform committee for Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Presidential Election. And just as important, Deborah has held a number of leadership positions locally for both the Tulalip Tribes and the Marysville School District. Her work extends beyond the US borders as well, working for the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation in Canada as the Director of the Residential Healing School early in her career, making her passion for providing healing for boarding and residential school survivors a lifetime commitment. 

Last Fall, Deborah helped organize the 2nd Annual Boarding School Healing Conference at the Tulalip Resort Casino. The conference was hosted by NAB, or the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, a non-profit founded in 2012 whose mission is to bring out the true history of boarding schools in America and residential schools in Canada, as it is often glossed over in textbooks, if mentioned at all.

“Our Native children were often put in schools and many never returned,” she explained. “We are currently fighting at the United Nations to bring back justice for the children and families who never returned home from the boarding schools.”

  Assimilation brought on years of terror and abuse for Native children all across America. 367 boarding schools were established throughout the country in total, with 13 based in the state of Washington, including the Tulalip Indian School. The atrocities that occurred at the boarding schools in turn had a trickledown effect throughout the generations. Today, although several generations removed from the boarding school experience, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of boarding school survivors are dealing with the aftereffects of the abuse that took place at the schools, trying to break the cycle of generational trauma that often appears as alcoholism and substance abuse, suicide, depression, poor diets, and domestic violence that stems from neglect, maltreatment and loss of identity caused by forced assimilation at the boarding schools.

Although Deborah doesn’t have an official position with NAB, due to her personal connections and the desire to see residential school victims begin their healing process, she has been very involved with the non-profit’s recent activities, often volunteering to lend her voice, expertise and a helping hand whenever and wherever needed.  

She said, “Back when COVID first hit, I asked who’s taking care of our elders? We just had a conference here at Tulalip and I met a lot of the elders and people who are just trying to process. I was concerned for them and their wellbeing. NAB had some funding that would’ve went to another conference, and since they didn’t spend the money, I started looking at products online for care packages. I started looking at how I could buy Indigenous.”

Taking it upon herself, Deborah began researching Native-owned businesses, compiling a wish list of products and companies she hoped to collaborate with. She reached out to these companies to gauge their interest in working together and their capability to fulfill large order requests during the coronavirus, many of whom were facing hard times as a result of the pandemic. In fact, many companies actually expressed that her business helped them immensely during this time of unknown. 

“I realized that there are a lot of Native entrepreneurs and businesses that were really struggling, so I thought what a good partnership if we could send some of their beautiful items to the elders in need. This was a vision of creating a win-win situation between everyone involved, including NAB having the budget to support this effort.”

The next step, after purchasing products made by Indigenous creators from all across the country, was assembling the boxes. Knowing she could rely on her community, Deborah put out a call on Facebook and the volunteers showed up. Over the summer, community members of all ages leant a hand in putting together the care packages at the Boys & Girls Club, including Club members and staff. 

“It’s been pretty fun, having the kids participate,” said Club Director, Mark Hatch. “Some of the basketball team kids come here and donate their time on the weekends and that’s pretty impressive. I think it’s really important work that Debbie and her team is doing.” 

Tribal member Misty Flores and her kids have been volunteering their time to the care package project since the very beginning.

“We love working here,” Misty stated. “To be able to participate in this experience and help the elders is a once in a lifetime experience for us. In the last year I learned more about the boarding schools and what happened during those times. It’s really nice to be able to be a part of something so special and do something heartfelt for those people who had horrible things happen to them.”

Skylar Flores said, “It was a new exciting challenge to complete and it felt nice to help the elders who survived the boarding schools.”

Although she admits that curating each box requires more attention than she originally anticipated, Deborah expressed an extreme amount of gratitude for the volunteers and was beyond ecstatic when showcasing the contents of each box, noting that each package will be unique, as well as a surprise to the recipient. 

  “A lot of the products were harvested just for this and are sustainable,” Deborah said. “We have medicine bags that were handmade by Threads of Love, who went completely above and beyond to make every medicine bag special. The Native Wellness Institute sent us Native Wellness coloring books. We have the Three Sister seed-blend, from the Native American Agriculture Fund and the Flower Hill Institute. They sent us two cases of corn, beans and pumpkin seeds for elders to plant, and they also donated money to help us send the boxes out. The Native American Finance Officer Association, NAFOA, donated 1,000 chocolate bars that are from the Chickasaw Nation. It’s a really fine, delicious chocolate.” 

She continued, “We purchased coffee from four different Native American Coffee Companies, so most of the boxes will have coffee. We have wild rice from Red Lake; Organic Huckleberry Jam by Rose’s Native Design from the Yakama Nation. From the Quinault Nation, Titus Capoeman and [Tootie James] made 1,000 Devil’s Club Salves and we have SovereigNDN Tea made by Jean Ramos. Amy Anderson (Tulalip) does the Salish Soaps. Puyallup donated 1,000 cedar roses, necklaces and beaded items. We have sweet grass lip balm, blackberry sage and sequoia candles. 1,000 paddle pendants handmade by a Chehalis tribal member and Cecily George painted hearts on each paddle.”

Deborah stated that although it was important to order locally, she also wanted to include items from as many sovereign nations that she could, including tribes based in Alaska, Oklahoma, Piute, South Dakota and New Mexico. Tulalip tribal member Sarah Hart, was called upon to add her contributions to the project. Sarah is known by the local community to carry sage and perform blessings and cleansings for people prior to gatherings and events. Sarah provided her potent, homemade hand sanitizer for the care packages, as well as sage that she journeyed to California to harvest. 

“To know where the boxes are going touches your heart in such an unexplainable way,” Sarah said. “I have heard stories my whole life from elders, my grandma and family about boarding schools and the horror stories. To be a part of this is a real honor, to give them a little bit of medicine and remind them that we love them and without them, we wouldn’t be who we are today. They have sacrificed the ultimate pain and we owe them our prayers and love. It was emotional for me to have some of our youth [assemble care packages], including my son. Deborah explained, when the first boxes were made, what they were and what that meant. At the moment, everyone felt so much emotion in that room. To know my sanitizer and the medicine will go to a boarding school survivor is the ultimate honor.”

Deborah and her family also did a bit of harvesting of their own for this occasion, and out of their harvest they created a medicinal spray that helps ease tension and anxiety.

“One is sage, cedar, sweet orange and lavender, it’s called medicine bundle,” Deborah explained. “It took about a week of harvesting and distilling. We had Misty, her children, Colette from Northwest Indian College, and the [Boys & Girls Club’s] boys’ basketball team help with filling the bottles. We probably have about 600 bottles done. It took one whole day just to put the fluid in the bottles, cut the sticker and put them on the bottle and in a bag so they’re ready to go.” 

Although the grand total of care packages is 1,000, Deborah and the group of volunteers will be shipping out 150 boxes at a time. In addition to the items Deborah listed, the boxes may also include N95 or cloth masks, Red Corn Frybread dough, Eighth Generation socks, Native Wellness Life Magazines, and a We Love You card with instructions for the elders on how to share photos of their care packages on their social media, and additional information about the real history of boarding schools in North America.

“Starting this project was just a labor of love,” Deborah expressed. “It meant a lot to me for the elders to know that we care about them. Some of these ideas may seem off the wall like, ‘you’re just buying products, what does that have to do with Native people?’ It’s our survival, it’s our commerce, it’s how we take care of our elders. Because our families were separated, our children were removed, taking care of each other has been a challenge at times. We lost many of those skillsets that we once had, so getting back to the love, getting back to nurturing, getting back to community is one of our greatest needs in Indian Country.”

If you are looking to volunteer your time or are searching for my details, please contact Deborah Parker via Facebook or visit

Huckleberry Harvest: swədaʔx̌ali an expression of Tulalip sovereignty

swədaʔx̌ali is a sustained effort between a Tulalip Tribes and U.S. Forest Service partnership.

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

For thousands of years, huckleberry has served as an important food, medicine, and trade good to the Coast Salish peoples. Mountain huckleberry is most abundant in the middle to upper mountain elevations, and favors open conditions following disturbances like fire or logging. Prior to European colonization, Native peoples managed the land by using fire and other means to create or maintain huckleberry habitat and gathering areas.

In 2016, the Tulalip Tribes began working cooperatively with the U.S. Forest Service to sustain huckleberries at a 1,280-acre parcel of land, 4,700 feet above elevation in the upper Skykomish River watershed. This particular location is one of several co-stewardship areas throughout the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest where Tulalip collaborates with the Forest Service to preserve and maintain important cultural resources. 

Named swədaʔx̌ali, Lushootseed for ‘Place of Mountain Huckleberries’, this end of summer destination gives Tulalip tribal members an opportunity to walk in the shadows of their ancestors and harvest the highly prized mountain huckleberry. The gate to swədaʔx̌ali  was officially opened on August 25 and will remain open through the end of September. 

Wild mountain huckleberries only grow in soils at elevations from 2,000 to 
11,000 feet.

Northwest mountain huckleberries generally ripen in the late summer and can be picked into the early fall. Huckleberry, well-known for boosting the immune system and being rich in antioxidants, has always had a strong relationship to the area’s Indigenous cultures. Coast Salish tribes consider the huckleberry to be an important dietary staple because of its medicinal properties and sweet, delicious taste. 

“Huckleberry is a food and medicine to our people,” explained Tulalip elder Inez Bill. “Our ancestors visited certain areas for gathering these berries. They knew where the berries were growing, what companion plants were growing there too, and how to use them. 

“Through the teachings of how we value, take care of and utilize our environment, we pass down our history and traditions, and what is important to the cultural lifeways of our people,” she continued. “This connection to the land enables us to know who we are as a people. It is a remembrance. Today, it is not only important that we continue the struggle to uphold our treaty rights, but we need to be involved in taking care of those resources our culture depends on so they will be available to future generations.” 

swədaʔx̌ali  is a prime example of how Tulalip is diligently working to reclaim traditional areas. Stemming directly from the Point Elliot Treaty, which secured claims to gather roots and berries in all open and unclaimed land, the ‘Place of the Mountain Huckleberries” is an expression of Tulalip’s sovereignty.

Embracing that sovereignty is every tribal member who journeys to this ancestral harvesting area and practices their cultural traditions that continue to be passed on from one generation to the next. Tulalip mother-daughter duo, Malory Simpson and Tiyanna Bueno, have made the two-hour trek to harvest huckleberry twice so far, and plan on going once more before the gate is closed for the season.

Tulalip youth Tiyanna Bueno and Tiegan Shopbell enjoy the sweet taste of huckleberry.

“I love being outdoors and harvesting. It is spiritually healing,” reflected Malory after collecting her berry bounty alongside her 9-year-old daughter. “It feels good knowing that my children are learning about our harvesting traditions with me. I want them to not only have a good understanding of how to harvest, but how to properly process what they’ve harvested, too.

“It’s important for our children to soak up teachings about how to harvest, process, and be self-sustaining in a good way,” the mother of three continued. “My plan for our harvest is to make some jam. We’ll be enjoying huckleberry pancakes and waffles as well. We’ll also be gifting some of our harvest for spiritual work.”

For the Tulalip Tribes, the mountain huckleberry is intimately tied with traditional lifeways and culture. Historically providing an end of summer harvest opportunity, the journey to swədaʔx̌ali  strengthens a deep connection to the land as well.  Nearly 5,000 feet up, in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, berry pickers are completely immersed in the grand splendor that is the Pacific Northwest. Epic views of luscious, green-filled forestry, towering mountains, and clear waterways are purely mesmerizing.

Dean Pablo delights in his berry bounty.

“It was a beautiful, uplifting experience. Once we hit the forest, where there were no buildings, no cars, no people, just trees…my spirit soared,” said Lushootseed teacher Maria Martin after staining her hands purple from a day of picking. “I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to speak my language, but that is only a piece of my culture. Berry picking feels natural, like I’ve always done it. The smells are intoxicating. The sounds are beautiful, from the buzzing bugs and chirping birds to the gentle breeze rustling the huckleberry leaves. These are the meaningful experiences that we all need to share in.”

  Mountain huckleberry season is short, lasting only a few weeks between August and September. The sought after super food and medicine ranges in color from red to deep blue to maroon. They are similar to a blueberry and sweeter than a cranberry, with many people rating huckleberries as the tastiest of the berry bunch. The gate to swədaʔx̌ali  will only remain opened for a couple more weeks, so don’t miss the opportunity to harvest, take in breathtaking views, and, most importantly, express tribal sovereignty. 

Huckleberry Health Benefits:

  • Huckleberries are full of antioxidants, compounds that are essential for improving the health of numerous systems within the body, while also preventing the development of serious health issues.
  • An excellent source of vitamin A and B, huckleberries are great for promoting a healthy metabolism which in turn helps reduce the risk of stroke. They are also known to help stave off macular degeneration as well as viruses and bacteria.
  • Huckleberries are associated with lowering cholesterol; protecting against heart diseases, muscular degeneration, glaucoma, varicose veins, and ulcers.
  • Huckleberries are an excellent source of iron which helps build new red blood cells and helps fatigue associated with iron deficiency.
  • High in vitamin C, huckleberries protect the body against immune deficiencies, cardiovascular diseases, prenatal health problems, and eye diseases.